Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Searless West was a former employee of the City of Albany who filed a complaint in federal court against the City and two individuals setting forth, among other things, a claim under the Georgia Whistleblower Act (“GWA”). With respect to West’s claims under the GWA, she sought economic and non-economic damages resulting from alleged retaliation for disclosing what she deemed to be certain financial irregularities in the City’s utility department. The City filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings with regard to the whistleblower claim, asserting it failed as a matter of law because West did not provide ante litem notice prior to filing the complaint. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, in an order finding no controlling precedent from the Georgia Supreme Court that addressed the legal issue raised by the City, certified a question of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court: "is a plaintiff required to provide a municipal corporation with ante litem notice pursuant to OCGA 36-33-5 in order to pursue a claim against it for money damages under the [GWA]?" The Supreme Court answered this question in the negative. View "West v. City of Albany" on Justia Law

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Appellants GeorgiaCarry.org and Phillip Evans appeal the dismissal of their petition for declaratory and injunctive relief as to the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s prohibition of weapons on the Garden’s premises. Evans, who holds a Georgia weapons carry license, visited the Garden twice in October 2014 and wore a handgun in a waistband holster each time. After gaining admission to the Garden on his second visit, Evans was stopped by an employee of the Garden and advised that he could not carry the weapon at the Garden; a security officer detained Evans, and Evans was eventually escorted from the Garden by an officer with the Atlanta Police Department. The Supreme Court agreed with appellants that the trial court erred in dismissing their case. "Appellants request for declaratory relief was not impermissible, and it was error to dismiss Appellants’ declaratory judgment action on the basis that it improperly called for the interpretation and application of a criminal statute." Accordingly, the trial court’s order was reversed in this respect. The trial court also dismissed Appellants’ request for injunctive relief; the Supreme Court concluded this was proper in part. The portion of Appellants’ requested injunctive relief (enjoining the arrest or prosecution of Appellants) squarely implicated the administration of criminal law and, thus, was improper. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "GeorgiaCarry.org v. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2013, former employees of two in-home personal care companies sued their former employers, asserting that they had not been paid the minimum wage to which they were entitled under the Georgia Minimum Wage Law (GMWL). The employers removed the case to a federal district court, which certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court: (1) whether, under Georgia law, an employee that falls under an FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] exemption is effectively “covered” by the FLSA for purposes of OCGA 34-4-3 (c) analysis, thereby prohibiting said employee from receiving minimum wage compensation under the GMWL; and (2) whether an individual whose employment consisted of providing in-home personal support services was prohibited from receiving minimum wage compensation under the GMWL pursuant to the “domestic employees” exception in OCGA 34-4-3 (b)(3). After review, the Georgia Supreme Court answered both questions "no." View "Anderson v. Southern Care Home Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellee Barto Mitcham filed a negligence action against appellants, the City of Atlanta (the “City”) and George Turner, in his official capacity as the Chief of Police for the City of Atlanta Police Department, alleging that Mitcham was seriously injured as a result of appellants’ failure to provide him necessary medical treatment while in their custody. Mitcham specifically alleged that after he was arrested by the City of Atlanta Police Department, he became ill because of low blood sugar associated with diabetes. He was taken to the hospital, and upon his discharge and release back into the custody of the City, Atlanta Police Department officers were informed of his diabetic condition and the need to monitor and regulate his insulin levels. He alleged they failed to do so, causing him further illness and serious and permanent injuries. The Supreme Court granted a petition for writ or certiorari in this case to determine whether the Court of Appeals used the proper analysis when it determined that the provision of medical care by the City of Atlanta to inmates in its custody was a ministerial function for which the City of Atlanta’s sovereign immunity had been waived. Because the Court found that the care of inmates in the custody of a municipal corporation is a governmental function for which sovereign immunity has not been waived, it reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "City of Atlanta v. Mitcham" on Justia Law

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Defendant Warren Hill was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate by beating him to death with a sink leg embedded with nails. The jury sentenced him to death, and the Supreme Court affirmed. The sentencing court issued the execution order on July 3, 2013, setting defendant's execution for the one-week period of July 13-20, 2013. That execution order was filed after the July 1, 2013 effective date of a new law designating "identifying information" concerning the persons and entities that participate in executions, including those who participate in the procurement of execution drugs, to be a "confidential state secret." Defendant filed suit naming the Commissioner of Corrections and others as defendants, seeking an interlocutory injunction, a permanent injunction, a declaratory judgment, a writ of mandamus, and "[s]ealed discovery of the identity of the compounding pharmacy and the supply chain and manufacturer(s) of any and all ingredients used to produce the lethal drug compound to be injected into [defendant]." Hill alleged that the execution-participant confidentiality statute was unconstitutional on various grounds in that it wrongly denied him information revealing the identities of all those involved in his execution. Defendant's complaint also stated that it was seeking "to enforce the prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment under Georgia and Federal Law." The Superior Court granted injunctive relief, and included a stay of execution. The Supreme Court thereafter granted the State's application for discretionary appeal of the Superior Court's order. The Supreme Court concluded that this case was not moot, that the Superior Court had limited but valid jurisdiction over this matter, that the possible availability of forms of discovery beyond what was forbidden by the execution-participant confidentiality statute did not affect this case, that the execution-participant confidentiality statute was not unconstitutional, and that the Superior Court erred by granting what amounted to an interlocutory injunction.View "Owens v. Hill" on Justia Law

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Probate Judge Andrew Bennett denied James Hertz’s application for a license to carry a weapon based on Hertz’s 1994 nolo contendere plea to five felony charges in Florida. Hertz applied for mandamus relief in superior court, alleging the denial violated the state statute and his constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The superior court affirmed. Because Hertz’s nolo contendere plea makes him ineligible for a weapons carry license under Georgia law, and the statute as applied to him does not violate the United States or Georgia Constitutions, the Supreme Court also affirmed. View "Hertz v. Bennett" on Justia Law

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Following the denial of her motion for new trial, Chanell Pitts appealed her convictions and misdemeanor sentences for 2011 violations of OCGA 20-2-690.1(the "mandatory education statute"). Her sole challenge was to the constitutionality of the statute. Finding no error in the trial court’s denial, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pitts v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Judge of the Clayton County Probate Court Pam Ferguson appealed two orders of the Superior Court of Clayton County. Case No. S12A1643 was Ferguson's appeal of the trial court's ruling that Manuel Perry was entitled to a Georgia weapons carry license ("WCL") pursuant to OCGA 16-11-129, and Case No. S12A1645 was her appeal of the trial court's subsequent order issuing a writ of mandamus requiring Ferguson to issue a WCL to Perry. Because the trial court correctly ruled that Perry was entitled to a WCL, the Supreme Court affirmed both of these cases. In Case No. S12X1644, Perry cross-appealed the trial court's ruling that Perry's right to keep and bear arms under the Georgia and United States Constitutions was not violated by the denial of his WCL application. The Supreme Court vacated that ruling, because once the trial court determined that Perry was entitled to a WCL under 16-11-129, his claim that the denial of a weapons carry license violated his right to keep and bear arms lost its premise, and the trial court should not have opined on a moot issue. View "Ferguson v. Perry" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case concerned who was legally authorized to select the drug or drugs to be used in executions in Georgia and how that choice may be made-- an issue which the Court felt impacted the management of prisons and inmates in Georgia: "this case could also affect the remaining myriad of management decisions made throughout Georgia’s prison system, and . . . when those decisions must be made directly by the Board of Corrections in its policymaking role versus when they may by left to the statutorily-granted management prerogatives of the Commissioner of Corrections and the Department of Corrections that he manages." Warren Lee Hill was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate in the Lee County Correctional Institute by beating the victim with a board embedded with nails. Hill received the death sentence, and the Supreme Court affirmed. Hill was unsuccessful in his state and federal habeas proceedings. The execution was originally scheduled for July 18, 2012, but it was rescheduled for July 23, 2012. The change in the specific execution date was announced by the Department of Corrections at approximately the same time that the Department of Corrections announced that it was changing from a three-drug execution procedure to a one-drug procedure. In response to the announcement of the new execution procedure, Hill filed a complaint against the Board of Corrections, the Department of Corrections, and the Commissioner of Corrections, alleging that the defendants failed to comply with the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act in adopting Georgia’s new execution procedure, and he sought a declaratory judgment, an injunction, a stay of execution, and a writ of mandamus. The Superior Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss Hill’s complaint on the ground that the Administrative Procedure Act did not apply to the new execution procedure, and the Supreme Court granted Hill’s application for discretionary appeal and his motion for a stay of his scheduled execution. But upon review of the applicable statutory authority, the Supreme Court affirmed that dismissal. View "Hill v. Owens" on Justia Law

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A group of firefighters brought a class action lawsuit against the City of Atlanta alleging that the city breached its employment contracts with the firefighters as well as its statutory obligation to provide a fair and impartial promotional process by failing to prevent cheating on a fire lieutenant promotional exam. The trial court issued an interlocutory injunction prohibiting the city from making any permanent promotions based on the results of the challenged exam and providing that all appointments would be temporary pending a final decision on the merits of the case. After the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the trial court crafted a permanent injunction that contained mandatory instructions regarding how the city must re-test. Appellants, all of whom are firefighters who scored 90 or higher on the first exam, appealed the permanent injunction to challenge provisions of the injunction that treated them as "probable cheaters." Appellees (named plaintiffs in the class action), moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that appellants lacked standing to challenge the trial court’s judgment because they were not parties to the original action and because the judgment was not entered against them. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court found appellants had standing to appeal the judgment in this case. Further, the Court held that the trial court abused its discretion in fashioning injunctive relief specific to appellants and erred in entering judgment against them. Accordingly, the Court vacated those portions of the permanent injunction that required the city to treat appellants differently from class members. View "Barham v. City of Atlanta" on Justia Law